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Monday, April 19, 2021

After 45 Years, Loggerhead Sea Turtles Again Emerge on Delaware’s Shores

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sea turtles
A small group of loggerhead hatchlings makes their way to the Atlantic ocean from a nest in Fenwick Island State Park. Rita Dyoynikova/MERR photo.

A site so rare it hasn’t been seen on Delaware’s shores since 1973. Forty-nine loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings recently emerged from a nest at Fenwick Island State Park. And all but one made their way to the Atlantic to start their life at sea.

DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife discovered 78 eggs on the island that were laid below the high tide line, which would have likely ended in nest failure. They kept their find under wraps until they could safely move the eggs to a higher location at Fenwick Island State Park and monitor their progress. One of the hatchlings died in the nest cavity, a common occurrence with sea turtle nests.

sea turtles - Fenwick Island
Rita Dyoynikova/MERR photo.

Images captured from a remote camera indicated that many of the hatchlings popped out from the nest late one night and made their way to the ocean in September. Nest monitors arrived early the next morning to find a single turtle wandering near the nest, with 12 more hatchlings later found stuck on or disoriented near the dune due to a storm the night before. Those turtles were placed near the water by Division of Fish & Wildlife biologists.

Later that same week, another seven hatchlings emerged and made their way to the ocean after sunset. An additional five hatchlings emerged over the next several days, making their way to the ocean. Finally, a single hatchling’s tracks to the ocean were observed one morning in late September.

DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife and Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) volunteers worked together to safely move the eggs to the remote location and erected predator fencing to protect the nest until the hatchlings emerged. They also personally monitored and protected the nest throughout the anticipated hatch period.

On the East Coast, loggerheads (Caretta caretta) typically nest on sandy beaches from North Carolina to Florida. It is rare for them to nest north of Virginia, and an extremely rare event for Delaware. This is the first documented loggerhead sea turtle nest in Delaware since July 1973, when a nest was found in north Bethany. Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland experienced its first successful loggerhead hatch in 2017 after past multiple nesting attempts had failed.

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